Who: The Soviet Union.
What: The first artificial satellite sent into space.
Where: Low Earth orbit.
Why: A part of, and trigger for, the Space Race.
When: Launched October 4th, 1957, burned up January 4th, 1958.
The launch of Sputnik 1 is often marked as the beginning of the Space Age. A 58cm (23in) metal sphere, with radio antennae broadcasting short beeping sounds down to Earth, showed for the first time that man had the capability to reach space. It was launched on a Sputnik rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in October 1957. Scientifically, it helped to measure the density of the upper atmospheric layers, and the effectiveness of radio signals in low-Earth orbit. But the small metal globe, visible from many parts of the world and emitting a characteristic beeping sound that was picked up by radio sets everywhere, inspired generations of engineers and scientists, including future astronauts Alan Shepard (first American in space) and Deke Slayton, and Homer Hickam, famous NASA engineer and inspiration behind the film October Sky. Less than twelve years after this first rocket launch, human beings would be walking on the surface of the Moon. Sputnik’s orbit decayed, and it re-entered the atmosphere and burned up in January 1958, after three months, about 43.5 million miles (70 million km) and about 1,400 orbits.